Sara came up with the idea of serving a weekly neighborhood meal in the kitchen at their farmhouse. It wasn’t enough that they had a couple dozen horses to tend to; some boarders and others slated for their lesson programs. The horses ranged in size from pony to draft, and she loved each one of them individually.
Every Saturday new people appeared at the house for an early supper. Some would put a donation in the box by the stove, others would not. Either way, it was fine with Sara. She enjoyed cooking new recipes and bringing people together made her feel complete. Community was everything and running these events was, in a way, inevitable since they had an overstocked freezer, fridge, and pantry. All of it; the meat, fruit, and vegetables had come straight from their land. What they couldn’t consume, they either canned and sold or gave to the needy at the city shelters.
There were too many people in the house this winter afternoon. Outside the kitchen window, Sara observed the recent snowfall resting on the ground. The open patch of dirt surrounded by four shovels, was the only bare spot. The hired hands were taking a break from the ritual while drinking steaming liquid from the mugs off of their steel thermoses. It wouldn’t be long before they finished.
Sara hustled around in the kitchen making more food as she kept an eye on the guests, some of whom she hadn’t met before. Some that weren’t clients at her lesson barn. They’d come in with her neighbors and friends, or so she thought. There were a few of the strangers that worried her. A lady with red nails sitting by the fireplace on a bench seemed to be a bit too hungry. She sucked the apple pie filling off her fork, then her fingers and from under those red nails. It appeared to be more like withdrawing the nectar from the top of an orange with the long, loud sucking sounds. Her lips puckered and her cheeks pulled inward. Then there was the boy, he too wore red, but on his blue plaid shirt. But the boy wasn’t eating—he was helping himself to a computer war game on the big screen television in the alcove. Some of twenty or so guests roamed around the room chatting with each other. Still others, sat on chairs or the couch, talking about things Sara couldn’t hear over the roar of everyone’s voices. Someone behind her said ‘hello,’ and she turned around. It was a friend, a friend she’d known for more than twenty years—Annie. They had hardly begun to talk when a worker knocked on the door and opened it no more than six inches to report the job was done and the stone put in place. Sara thanks him and told him to wait while she sent Annie to find her husband to dole out the funds for burying Laddie. He was such a sweet little pony, and Sara vowed to always remember him. The headstone outside the kitchen window would never let her forget.
When Annie returned from her task, another man walked in the door behind her and flashed an FBI badge. Sara was taken aback and scowled rather fiercely at him. She couldn’t, or maybe she could, imagine why the agent was there. Perhaps there was someone in the group of strangers that didn’t belong. The man said he’d be discrete while he circled through the crowd. He also mentioned there were two more agents outside in case anyone, who wasn’t supposed to leave, tried to flee. Sara consented as she had no other choice. She headed over to the sink to wash a pan and looked out the window toward the pond where her husband was paying the workers.
The oven timer went off. Before Sara could get there, Annie put on the oven mitts and pulled out another apple pie. Sara loved the extra help. While the pies were cooling, they huddled together and poured more stew into a serving dish. Not all of the guests had eaten the first portion since they’d been more interested in socializing than eating. The young man in front of the television was riveted to the screen. Sara took a bowl of food to him, and he looked up. She tried to ask who he was connected to, but instead, his eyes darted around the room and landed on one of the agents. She didn’t know why he knew since they were dressed in jeans and shirts like most of the other guests, but the young man wasn’t fooled. It wasn’t clear to Sara why he should be concerned. He consumed a few spoonfuls of stew and thanked her before excusing himself and walking out the side door. Following the young man to the door, she watched him head toward the barn only to be stopped and handcuffed by one of the agents. Within five minutes, they got in the car, were joined by the remaining agents and drove off without explanation.